Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Paul continues with his story, a story of his own Christian experience that he is sharing with the Galatians so that they will understand that those who were among them at the time teaching that a Gentile must become a Jew and be circumcised, before they can receive Christ, were wrong. In this little chunk of his text, Paul recounts his visit to Jerusalem to consult with the other Apostles on this very subject. Quite clearly, they all understood that the only way to salvation, for either Jew or Gentile, was faith in Jesus Christ. Circumcision was useless in matters pertaining to salvation, and was not to be taught. There is an even larger principle in play here, and that is that we cannot add anything to the gospel. Thus, when people today want to add to the gospel, whatever they are pushing is invalid. Salvation is by faith alone.
As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
This is a really interesting little paragraph. Paul is really driving home the point that the leaders in Jerusalem were having no part in this business of requiring Gentiles to become Jews to receive Christ. It is conjecture on my part, for the text doesn’t actually say it, but it appears to me that the false teachers among the Galatians must have been claiming that they had been sent from Jerusalem to teach “correctly.” This would certainly explain why Paul opened his letter without the usual formalities, and went directly to a condemnation of the false teachers.
This also brings up another interesting point for us to ponder. When is it OK for us to condemn someone? In Peter’s letters, he did not advocate condemnation being heaped upon those who opposed the truth…
Recall that Peter was talking about those who denied the truth, and brought ridiculous accusations and ridicule against the truth. They were non-believers. Yet here, Paul is dealing with false teachers who were perverting the Gospel of Jesus Christ: See the difference? Those who scoff at the gospel are different from those who pervert it, for a scoffer is easy to recognize, and one can simply consider the source and disregard their rantings. A false teacher, on the other hand, can cause tremendous damage not only to an individual believer, but the entire Body of Christ. These guys are supposed to be followers of Christ, the scoffing unbeliever just doesn’t understand… yet. That is a huge difference!
Finally, note also that Paul didn’t just open fire at the false teachers; he went all the way to Jerusalem, not by catching a quick flight, to make absolutely certain of his position before condemning anyone. If Paul had to be certain, I would suggest that might go double for you and I, and I’m confident that you’d agree.